NEWS READERS-cum-translators in All India Radio are dismayed over a government move shifting daily bulletins broadcast in regional languages from Delhi to respective state capitals. While the move had been under consideration for a long time, a decision was finally taken last month.
While Assamese, Odia, Malayalam and Tamil news bulletins are now being broadcast respectively from Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai, the remaining, in Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Arunachali, Nepali, Kashmiri, Bangla and Dogri, would also be moved out soon. These bulletins are broadcast once a day in some languages, but thrice a day in most, and are estimated to have an audience running into lakhs.
The move has left experts of the four languages posted at the AIR Delhi office, whose bulletins have been moved from the capital, without a job. Some of them claim they have been verbally told not to come to office any more.
There are around 10 permanent employees in the language units, some 20 contractual employees, and close to 85 casual workers. The four units that have been moved employed two permanent, eight contractual and around 45 casual language experts.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, employees said they have not been given clear reasons by the Information & Broadcasting Ministry for the move. They claim that higher officials in the ministry and Prasar Bharati had told them that since they have been living in Delhi for long, they had forgotten the nuances of their mother tongues, and that better language experts were available in home states. At other times, lack of manpower in Delhi has been cited as the reason. There is a third reason, also given by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore on the issue in Parliament — that the continuation of these bulletins from Delhi was “unwarranted” because of the “advent of satellite communication system”.
Director general, AIR, Faiyaz Sheheryar said that the issue “has not been understood properly”. According to him, the units are being moved “for optimum utilisation of talent” across the country.
However, there was a reason for keeping the language experts in Delhi for the daily bulletins, argue the news readers and translators. It was expected that they would help one another understand the nuances of the different languages as well as issues in respective states. For example, a Punjabi language expert may not necessarily know how to pronounce Tamil politician Kanimozhi’s name, with the extremely soft sound of ‘r’ for ‘zh’ in her name. Similarly, a master of Malayalam might not know how the ‘tch’ sound in Assam is closer to ‘s’.
Apart from the daily bulletins they deliver, these language experts are consulted by government departments and ministries for translation, including by the PMO for the letters Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets for his monthly Mann ki Baat. The language experts also translate the script of Mann ki Baat, which is broadcast in 21 languages apart from Hindi.
Incidentally, AIR Regional News Units have their own bulletins in local languages, but these are not the national bulletin.
Over 50 parliamentarians have expressed their opposition to the AIR move. In a letter to Union I&B Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury wrote that this was “based on a faulty proposal containing unprofessional and non-viable reasons”. He said there was no dearth of linguistic experts in the national capital and the quality of these bulletins was “excellent”. “People from all over India feel proud hearing the news bulletin in their mother tongue from the national capital and they take this news bulletin originating from here as more authentic than bulletins from regional stations,” he wrote.
The first time the idea was floated was when Sushma Swaraj was I&B minister in the first NDA government, but it was shot down. Then, in 2005, when Jaipal Reddy was the minister in the first UPA term, language experts of Sindhi, Kannada and Telugu were moved to regional units. Incidentally, one of the people who vociferously opposed the move then was Sarbananda Sonowal, a BJP Lok Sabha MP, who is now Assam Chief Minister. He has so far been silent on the transfer of the Assamese bulletin to Guwahati.
Earlier this year, Dipak Dholakia, who retired as news reader-cum-translator after nearly 35 years in 2008, held a press conference saying the language units were being moved so as to ensure that “the services go to Hindusthan Samachar”. An RSS-backed news wire service that provides news in 10 regional languages, Hindusthan Samachar has seen a revival and was hired by AIR for a three-month trial period last year. However, there has been no further action on it since.
The news readers believe moving the language units out of Delhi will make it easier for AIR to justify subscribing to a regional-language news wire service.
Denying that AIR was trying to help them, Rakesh Manjul, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Hindusthan Samachar, told The Indian Express that while they continue to send their news to both Doordarshan and AIR, as they have not been asked to stop, they are not paid for it. “If the government really wanted to help us, they would have taken our services and paid for them,” he said.
Dholakia also questions the rationale of lack of manpower. No news reader or translator has been hired to permanent positions in AIR in the past 20 years, and even new contractual employees have not been hired in three years, he said. “These are all excuses, they want to close down these units,” he told The Indian Express.